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High Touch or Low Touch? Maybe That’s Not the Right Question

There’s an assumption in our industry about customer success (CS) that says that companies wanting to establish CS organizations need to quickly decide on the type of engagement model they’ll deploy for their various segments. The debate typically argues the merits and demerits of a high touch strategy versus low touch. The answer always boils down to people (high touch) versus technology (low touch).

Man wrestling robot arm

Intelligent and helpful examples of blended models have been proposed, but it seems that the more variations entertained, the longer it takes to come to a conclusion that the company feels suits their needs. Therefore, close attention is directed at determining which customers will receive high touch and then relegating everyone else to low. Or maybe a model is designed that sees a well-defined high touch, an ill-defined and very squishy medium, and a low that looks like, well, just about every generic campaign ever designed and executed by a marketing organization.

Confused? So are your customers. And, by the way, they may also be insulted.

man scratching head

Would you be able to tell?

While the segmentation exercise offers speed and certainty for the company, it tends to reinforce preexisting biases and often suffers from faulty logic. In the end, this can result in very limited value to the average customer that can take many months to play out. And (here’s where temperatures rise) this applies even with a company’s most strategic customers.

A rebuttal to my point (I can hear it being yelled) is that vendors must preserve the ability for their highest ARR (annual recurring revenue) customers to be successful at all costs and that high touch programs offer the level of attention those customers expect and require. That’s fine, I get it. But if you honestly probed the subject of what level of attention those strategic customers expect and require, you might be surprised. Your customers’ definition of what constitutes success is likely different than your assumptions.

Let’s expand on that point.

Customer Success High Touch as It Is Normally Delivered

  • People, usually very experienced: low CSM to customer ratio.
  • Informed oversight of implementations, onboarding, upgrades. They also share, to some extent, governance of the account relationship with sales.
  • Quarterbacking of escalations; act as “single throat to choke” (I can’t stand that phrase); do whatever it takes to get the customer out of crises.
  • Conduct regular cadence of check-in calls.
  • Deliver occasional business reviews focused mostly on the customer’s support experience and what’s coming from product management.

The Value in That Approach

  • A human relationship, a name
  • Immediacy, responsiveness, customer account, and, inconsistently, business knowledge
  • Security
  • Comfort, familiarity
  • Some sense that by meeting there will be an improvement in the support experience and a clearer picture of how the solutions impact the customer’s business

In our Voice of the Customer program, we’ve explored this topic and have learned that, sadly, customers are often left frustrated even when CSMs deliver consistently against all those items listed above. Why would they still be frustrated? Don’t they realize the amount of effort and energy the CSM is expending to serve them?

Actually, they do.

Time and again, I hear from executives who say they love their assigned CSM, and that they do X, Y, and Z (the items listed above) phenomenally well. It’s just that they feel their own teams have not made enough progress with adopting the solution and they wish the CSM could get in front of the challenges. In a nutshell, they feel there isn’t enough proactive guidance to help them achieve their goals.

Before any competitors read this and declare a scoop, let’s all be honest and admit that our company is not unique in this regard. My own experience with previous employers, big and small, my time spent in a research firm talking with hundreds of executives, and the research from industry firms (e.g. TSIA, SiriusDecisions, IDC, Forrester, etc.) have all made the correlation between the limitations of existing customer success models and persistent high rates of churn. Those findings are also supported in the countless stories CSMs tell at conferences and meetups. There just hasn’t been enough demonstrable future-oriented business impacting value in the existing dynamic. That’s why we’ve rolled out a new model to address the imbalances of that dynamic.

We believe that what’s been missing all along has been customer-generated and controlled data, data that we should be able to consume to turn back around and provide more relevant and personalized service.

As a relevant aside, it might surprise you to read that for B2B enterprises, the world of global financial trading offers good guidance on this topic. Whether an engagement is high touch or low, the engine that powers the engagement must be a firm layer of customer data-driven insights and appropriate automation that acts upon it. We believe that philosophy will reveal what’s missing from high touch and will make low touch a more powerful and relevant experience for all customers.

What we envision is this.

Customer Success As It Should Be Delivered to ALL Customers

  • Business knowledge for the customer as job No. 1. We should be able to answer the question, “How can this Oracle solution help me solve for _____?”
  • Highly responsive, clear, and professional communications.
  • Information and guidance ahead of need.
  • Deliver service that says, “We understand you, we understand your business, and we’ll be your advocate within Oracle.”

We believe all our customers deserve the best service, and we also believe that the best can only be provided by getting close to our customers, by listening to them, by partnering with them, and by improving our capabilities based on what we can learn from them. We have confidence this is the right approach because we hear our customers express this desire in the comments they make in our customer satisfaction surveys, during the in-depth interviews in our Voice of the Customer program, and from the insights we glean and extrapolate from engagement data collected in our digital interfaces.

Whether it’s high touch or low touch, our new approach means we’ll provide consistent, and proactive, expert guidance.

Customer success should not be about heroically supporting and leading the charge against escalations. Don’t get me wrong, customers applaud that and are grateful for it, but they’d much rather the escalations never happened. They believe customer success should become more instrumental in preventing escalations from ever occurring. 

man shaking robot hand

Customer success is about simplicity and speed, it’s about clarity of process structure and language, and it’s about an accountability for those deliverables that will drive momentum toward the achievement of customer business goals.

That’s what customers want. That’s what we’re going to deliver.

Check out our recent announcement of our new service model.

Join the discussion

Comments ( 2 )
  • JP Hautekeer Tuesday, July 3, 2018
    How do you manage the affordability of the proposed solutions? Through technology ?
  • Peter Armaly Thursday, July 12, 2018
    Hey JP,
    Great question, and you're right: technology is the answer. Affordability can be managed by exploiting technology to scale the effort. By scaling, a company would be able to touch thousands more of their customers with better service and attention than they receive today. From that better service and attention they would logically derive a higher retention rate. Higher retention rates, and eventual expanded investments by those retained customers, would be how the technology could be financially justified.
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